I was struck by the darkness and the sense of yearning as the Mr. Man and I sat on our green leather couch in our living room, attempting to get a little caught up on the advent readings. As the good little quasi (soon to be?) Lutherans that we are, we decided to give this whole advent thing a go (even though we were already several weeks behind schedule; it seemed like doing it a little would be better than not at all). So we sat there snuggled up together, him reading out loud. And all of the verses were about darkness and longing. Longing for reconciliation, wholeness, and for things to stop being so damn messed up.
When I think of advent I usually think of Christmas. Tiny Jesus in a cow-feeder. A midnight Christmas Eve service: the warm glow of the candles, the feeling of joy that comes with the carols, and the marry-Christmas greetings and hugs that follow before everyone walks out of church in the direction of their cars. But advent starts in the dark. It starts with longing. It starts with brokenness.
And Christmas Day isn’t the end of the story. Things weren’t all nice and peachy after that; Easter hadn’t arrive yet (there’s a not-so-happy thing called a crucifixion still coming). But there was a new sense of hope. Hope for reconciliation. Hope for healing. Hope for wholeness. They were halfway out of the dark.
It reminds me of a line from my favorite Doctor Who Christmas special, a sci-fi retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs. As if to say, ‘Well done. Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.’ Back on Earth we call this Christmas. Or the Winter Solstice.”
Christmases vary as much as the years they’re submerged in. I’ve had happy Hallmark-y Christmases, with family and rain (it’s Washington, what did you expect?) and wonderful presents under the tree. There have been others that were riddled with grief; every classic claymation special or cover of yet another classic yuletide song seemed like a new form of bereavement torture. I’ve had a Christmas where money was tight and Christians were offensive and not-exactly-charitable in the name of “helping the less fortunate” as they placed broken toys under our tree. This holiday season? This year I’m feeling halfway out of the dark.
It’s been a long, hard year. Yes, there have sure been some lovely moments doused in glitter and rainbows, but a lot of the year was dark and filled with longing — longing for healing, wholeness, and a little piece of mind.
Over the last year my clinical depression reached the point of becoming truly crippling. When I’d go to the doctor and was asked to fill out the emotional-and-mental-well-being form, I’d select five out-of-five and “extremely difficult” all the way down the list of questions. Sometimes I literally wouldn’t get out of bed the entire day; my husband would come home to find me still dressed in my PJs, unshowered, and unfed. The depression, like black, sticky tar that you simply can’t shake, was surrounding me, engulfing me, and drowning me.
It finally reached the point where I couldn’t deny there was a problem anymore; I was drowning and I couldn’t pull myself out. So I took the hard, scary step of telling my doctor exactly how bad things had gotten. Medication. Counseling. These aren’t the sorts of things your brain likely conjures up when you hear about “Christmas miracles,” but even though I’m not done with this long process it already feels miraculous; I get out of bed everyday, shower and brush my hair and teeth, eat cereal for breakfast, cook lunch and dinner, and sort of keep up on things around the house. I’m feeling so much better, in fact, that I’ve decided to go back to school to finish the last two years of my BA in Cultural Studies.
It’s still hard though. The last few days I’ve felt like crap thanks to a change in my dosage. But I’m functioning. I’m gaining back my life. I’m halfway out of the dark hole of depression.
There was other darkness, other brokenness this year. My marriage nearly fell apart, and I spent the longest two and a half weeks of my life near the end of the summer sleeping on my mom’s couch. So as we hung our First Christmas Together ornament on the tree, I cried. A mix of thankfulness, hopefulness, joy, and heartache over the fact things ever got so bad. There’s still hurt but there’s hope, there’s light ahead. We’re halfway out of a very dark place.
There’s been spiritual brokenness, too. Hurt, so much hurt from past churches and religious leaders and even well-meaning friends. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen (completely and utterly out of context), it’s been a cold and a broken hallelujah. But I’m starting to feel a little less cold and a little less broken. Things aren’t all healed up and there are certainly still scars, but spiritually I’m feel halfway out of the dark, too.
When I think about it, in a way it seems fitting that the holidays would take place the same month as the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, because despite all the icicle lights framing your neighbor’s roof or your uncle’s giant inflatable Santa snow-globe that keeps getting fogged up, December can be a dark time of year for a lot of people. For some, it’s joyous and celebratory but for others it’s a cruel reminder of loved ones lost, dreams that have fractured beyond repair, and how there won’t be anything waiting, below where a tree should be standing, on Christmas morning.
I’m lucky this year because despite how rocky and beak a lot of 2014 has been, I’m feeling halfway out of the dark. I feel hope the way I feel a sense of excitement when the Mr. Man and I go to Zoo Lights to celebrate the winter solstice or joy when I sing carols at a midnight Christmas Eve service, candle in hand. I’m not out of the dark yet. There’ll be more doctor’s appointments. More hard conversations. More “hey, God, it hurts to read the bible, I can’t read it, because people have used it to hurt instead of to heal.” But I know the sun will eventually stay for longer visits; Easter will eventually come; the flowers will eventually bloom; winter won’t last forever.
There’s hope. There’s a little light a midst all that freezing, pitch black winter.
So as a Scrooge-y old chap in my favorite TV show said: Well done. Well done, everyone. We’re halfway out of the dark.